Month: February 2017
The 214th Anniversary of Marbury v. Madison
On February 24, 1803, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Marbury v. Madison and confirmed the legal principle of judicial review – the ability of courts to limit congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional.
The portion of the Court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, confirming the principle of judicial review reads –
Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently, the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.
This theory is essentially attached to a written constitution, and is, consequently, to be considered, by this court, as one of the fundamental principles of our society. It is not therefore to be lost sight of in the further consideration of this subject.
If an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void, does it, notwithstanding its invalidity, bind the courts, and oblige them to give it effect? Or, in other words, though it be not law, does it constitute a rule as operative as if it was a law? This would be to overthrow in fact what was established in theory; and would seem, at first view, an absurdity too gross to be insisted on. It shall, however, receive a more attentive consideration.
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.
So if a law be in opposition to the constitution; if both the law and the constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution; or conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law; the court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.
If, then, the courts are to regard the constitution, and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply. (Emphasis added)
To learn more about the Court’s decision and the lasting impact of Marbury’s confirmation of the principle of judicial review, check out these resources –
(1) CSPAN Landmark Cases Discussion with Akhil Reed Amar and Cliff Sloan
(2) Gordon S. Wood, The Origins of Judicial Review Revisited, or How the Marshall Court Made More out of Less
(3) William Treanor, Judicial Review before Marbury
(4) Saikrishna B. Prakasht and John C. Yoo, The Origins of Judicial Review
230 Years Ago Today, the Confederation Congress Calls for a Constitutional Convention
On February 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress resolved –
Whereas there is provision in the Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union for making alterations therein by the Assent of a Congress of the United States and of the legislatures of the several States; And whereas experience hath evinced that there are defects in the present Confederation, as a mean to remedy which several of the States and particularly the State of New York by express instructions to their delegates in Congress have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution and such Convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these states a firm national government Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.
WILLIAM C. HOUSTON
JAMES MADISON, Junior
SAINT GEORGE TUCKER
That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government is acknowledged by the Acts of all those States, which have concurred in the present Meeting; That the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous, than even these acts imply, is at least so far probably, from the embarrassments which characterize the present State of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion, in some mode, which will unite the Sentiments and Councils of all the States. In the choice of the mode, your Commissioners are of opinion, that a Convention of Deputies from the different States, for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference from considerations, which will occur without being particularized.
Your Commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion respecting the propriety of a future Convention, with more enlarged powers, is founded; as it would be a useless intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been frequently the subject of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed. They are, however, of a nature so serious, as, in the view of your Commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the untied virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy.
Under this impression, Your Commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the union if the States, by whom they have been respectively delegated, would themselves concur, and use their endeavors to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the appointment of Commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to, by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same.
On This Day in 1942, FDR signs Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forcible relocation of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor
In the climate of fear surrounding World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. His Executive Order 9066 (February 19, 1942) read –
Executive Order No. 9066
Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area hereinabove authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.
I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.
This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas hereunder.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House,
February 19, 1942.
This policy was challenged by Fred Korematsu in Korematsu v. United States. In Korematsu, the United States Supreme Court said of Executive Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34 of the U.S. Army –
We uphold the exclusion order as of the time it was made and when the petitioner violated it.Cf. Chastleton Corporation v. Sinclair, 264 U.S. 543, 547; Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135, 155. In doing so, we are not unmindful of the hardships imposed by it upon a large group of American citizens. Cf. Ex parte Kawato, 317 U.S. 69, 73. But hardships are part of war, and war is an aggregation of hardships. All citizens alike, both in and out of uniform, feel the impact of war in greater or lesser measure. Citizenship has its responsibilities, as well as its privileges, and, in time of war, the burden is always heavier. Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when, under conditions of modern warfare, our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.
The Court’s decision in Korematsu has been generally condemned by historians and most other Americans. The decision has never been explicitly overturned by the Supreme Court. A report issued by Congress in 1983, however, declared that the decision had been “overruled by the court of history.” The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 contained a formal apology, as well as provisions for monetary reparations, for the Japanese Americans interned during WWII.
Do you love the Constitution?
“Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.” – James Wilson
And, yet, countless reports and studies confirm that American citizens of all ages lack a basic understanding of our nation’s history and form of government.
If you love the Constitution and believe more citizens ought to know about the text and history of the document, please consider making a contribution to support ConSource’s work this Valentine’s Day.
We work 365 days a year to connect citizens of all ages to the U.S. Constitution and its history. Every dollar donated to ConSource either supports one of our many free educational programs or one of our important digital collections of historical documents.
It has, perhaps, never been more important to invest in our public understanding of the Constitution and its history. We hope you will consider supporting our efforts!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
The 50th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 25th Amendment
On February 10, 1967, the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The Amendment was passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, in order to clarify what happens upon the death, removal, or resignation of a President or Vice-President, and how the Presidency is temporarily filled if the President becomes disabled or otherwise cannot fulfill his responsibilities.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution provided –
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
Section 3 of the 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, clarified one detail of presidential succession procedure by declaring that, if a President-elect dies before being inaugurated, the Vice President-elect becomes President-elect and is subsequently inaugurated.
Prior to the ratification of the 25th Amendment, it was standard practice that the Vice President became President upon the death of the President, as had happened eight times in our nation’s history. Presumably, the Vice President would also become President upon the removal of the President from office. There was also the issue of how to deal with the death or resignation of a Vice President. Throughout U.S. history 7 vice presidents had died in office and one resigned, and there had been no person to step up to fill the vacancy.
The most pressing question, on which scholars and experts at the time were divided, was whether the Vice President would become acting President when the President became temporarily unable to serve, and whether the Vice President could resume his office upon recovering his ability. Questions abound about who was to determine the existence of an inability, how was the matter to be handled in the President wished to continue in his/her role, what was to happen if the President recovered.
In the aftermath of the assassination of the of President John F. Kennedy and with the Vice Presidency vacant and a President (LBJ) who had previously had a heart attack, Congress decided to pass the 25th Amendment, which provides –
In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
The 222nd Anniversary of the 11th Amendment: A Constitutional Amendment Overturning a Supreme Court Decision
The 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution, changing a portion of Article III, Section 2, was ratified on February 7, 1795. The amendment reads –
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
Article III, Section 2 states –
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—[between a State and Citizens of another State;-]8 between citizens of different States;—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States [and between a State, or the Citizens thereof;—and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.]9
In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.
The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
The 11th Amendment was designed to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Chisholm v. Georgia.
The facts of that case were as follows –
In 1777, the Executive Council of Georgia authorized the purchase of needed supplies from a South Carolina businessman. After receiving the supplies, Georgia did not deliver payments as promised. After the merchant’s death, the executor of his estate, Alexander Chisholm, took the case to court in an attempt to collect from the state. Georgia maintained that it was a sovereign state not subject to the authority of the federal courts.
The issue confronted by the Court was whether the state of Georgia was subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the federal government? The importance of the case was laid out by Justice James Wilson in his opinion –
This is a case of uncommon magnitude. One of the parties to it is a State; certainly respectable, claiming to be sovereign. The question to be determined is, whether this State, so respectable, and whose claim soars so high, is amenable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States? This question, important in itself, will depend on others, more important still; and, may, perhaps, be ultimately resolved into one, no less radical than this— “do the people of the United States form a Nation?”
The Court held in a 4-to-1 decision that “the people of the United States” intended to bind the states by the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the national government. Further, the Court held that supreme or sovereign power was retained by citizens themselves, not by the “artificial person” of the State of Georgia. In the Court’s view, the Constitution made clear that controversies between individual states and citizens of other states were under the jurisdiction of federal courts. State conduct was, therefore, subject to judicial review.
At the time Chisholm was decided in 1793, there were a number of other suits against other states still pending. One case was Vassall v. Massachusetts, in which a British subject (Vassall) sued the states of Massachusetts for violating the Treaty of Peace when the state confiscated his property. Senator Caleb Strong of Massachusetts was alarmed by the Supreme Court’s opinion and quickly proposed language to Congress that would become the 11th Amendment to U.S. Constitution. The Amendment was passed by Congress on March 4, 1794, and was ratified on February 7, 1795.
To understand how the Supreme Court has interpreted the 11th Amendment, check out this explainer from the National Constitution Center –
In some early interpretations, the Amendment was not read expansively. In Cohens v. Virginia (1821), the Court rejected a challenge to its jurisdiction to review a state court decision in a criminal case, in which Virginia prosecuted two brothers from Virginia for the crime of selling lottery tickets. The Cohens defended on the ground that a federal statute authorized the lottery and ticket sales. The Court first concluded “that, as the [C]onstitution originally stood, the appellate jurisdiction of this Court, in all cases arising under the [C]onstitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, was not arrested by the circumstance that a State was a party.” Turning to the Eleventh Amendment, the Court noted that a defendant who seeks appellate review of an adverse decision “does not commence or prosecute a suit against the State.” Moreover, the Court said, the Amendment would not in any event apply because the Cohens were citizens of Virginia, and thus their appeal against Virginia was not “by a citizen of another State, or by a citizen or subject of any foreign State.”
In its 1890 decision in Hans v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court interpreted the Eleventh Amendment immunity broadly to prohibit suits against a state not only by citizens of another state, but also by a state’s own citizens, and in cases arising under federal law. It essentially disavowed the contrary language in Cohens. The HansCourt placed weight on the speed with which the Amendment was adopted, and suggested that Chisholmhad erred in upholding jurisdiction under the original Constitution, which could not have contemplated individual suits against states.
As Congress in the twentieth century increasingly enacted regulatory legislation that applied to the states, questions arose about whether federal statutes could be enforced against states through suits in federal court. InFitzpatrick v. Bitzer (1976), the Court held that Congress could subject states to suit in federal court through laws enacted under its Fourteenth Amendment power to redress discriminatory state action. In Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co. (1989), five Justices voted to allow Congress to subject states to suit under the Superfund Act, enacted under Congress’ Article I power to regulate interstate commerce. There was no majority opinion, however.
The Court quickly reversed itself on this issue. In Seminole Tribe v. Florida (1996), the Court issued a majority opinion for five Justices holding that Congress lacked power to subject states to suit when it legislated under its Article I Commerce Clause powers. Since Seminole Tribe, the Court has reaffirmed this holding and for the most part has limited Congress’s ability to subject states to suit in federal court, unless Congress acts pursuant to its powers to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment (in part on the theory that it was adopted after the Eleventh Amendment), or for some bankruptcy issues.
The Supreme Court’s decisions afford states immunities from suit that appear to go beyond the terms of the Eleventh Amendment. For example, as noted, suits by individuals against their own state have been barred; suits by foreign states are also barred. The Court has further held that states enjoy immunity in state court from suits based on federal law. Alden v. Maine (1999). Moreover, states may “consent” to suits that appear to be barred by the Amendment. These decisions suggest that the Court may regard state sovereign immunity—the legal privilege by which the state government cannot be sued, at least in its own courts, without its consent–as an underlying constitutional “postulate,”—an assumption reflected but not fully captured by the words of the Eleventh Amendment.
At least three other approaches have attracted support. First, some argue that the Eleventh Amendment should be applied according to a simple literal reading of its text to bar suits against states by out-of-state citizens, and foreign citizens or subjects (but only by these parties), even if their claim is based on federal law. Others have argued that the Eleventh Amendment’s language tracks a “party-based” head of jurisdiction, and thus should not be understood to prevent federal courts from hearing suits against a state by citizens of another state if the claim arises under federal law. Still a third view regards the Eleventh Amendment as addressed to the courts, prohibiting them from construing Article III’s jurisdictional grants to abrogate a state’s common law immunity but allowing Congress to override such immunity if it clearly expresses its intent to subject states to suit. (The accompanying commentaries present further scholarly views.)
While the states continue to enjoy broad sovereign immunity from suit, the Supreme Court does allow suits against state officers in certain circumstances, thus mitigating the effect of sovereign immunity. In particular, the Court does not read the Amendment to bar suits against state officers that seek court orders to prevent future violations of federal law. Moreover, suits by otherstates, and suits by the United States to enforce federal laws, are also permitted. The Eleventh Amendment is thus an important part, but only a part, of a web of constitutional doctrines that shape the nature of judicial remedies against states and their officials for alleged violations of law.
“Knowledge is in every Country the surest basis of public happiness” – George Washington
I read George Washington’s First State of the Union Address yesterday and wanted to share this passage with those who believe investments in education are essential to the preservation of our Constitutional form of government –
“There is nothing, which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every Country the surest basis of public happiness… To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways: By convincing those, who are entrusted with the public administration, that every valuable end of Government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people: And by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; … to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilence against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws. Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to Seminaries of Learning already established—by the institution of a national University—or by any other expedients, will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the Legislature.”
The 147th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Passed by Congress on February 26, 1869, the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870. The Amendment reads –
Article XV.Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude—Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The 15th Amendment was the last of three Reconstruction Amendments, including the 13th Amendment, which provided –
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
and the 14th Amendment –
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
After the ratification of the 15th Amendment, African American men voted and even held office in many Southern states. In the early 1890s, after the end of Reconstruction, significant impediments were placed in the way of African American men trying to vote. There were literacy tests, and “grandfather clauses” that excluded from the franchise anyone whose ancestors had not voted in the 1860s, in addition to other means used in the former Confederate states. Social and economic segregation also diminished the political power of black Americans, and in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” facilities for people of different races did not violate the the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
95 years after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was aimed at outlawing the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after Reconstruction. I’ve provided the full text of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 below. It begins “an act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” –
AN ACT To enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act shall be known as the “Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
SEC. 3. (a) Whenever the Attorney General institutes a proceeding under any statute to enforce the guarantees of the fifteenth amendment in any State or political subdivision the court shall authorize the appointment of Federal examiners by the United States Civil Service Commission in accordance with section 6 to serve for such period of time and for such political subdivisions as the court shall determine is appropriate to enforce the guarantees of the fifteenth amendment (1) as part of any interlocutory order if the court determines that the appointment of such examiners is necessary to enforce such guarantees or (2) as part of any final judgment if the court finds that violations of the fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief have occurred in such State or subdivision: Provided, That the court need not authorize the appointment of examiners if any incidents of denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race or color (1) have been few in number and have been promptly and effectively corrected by State or local action, (2) the continuing effect of such incidents has been eliminated, and (3) there is no reasonable probability of their recurrence in the future.
(b) If in a proceeding instituted by the Attorney General under any statute to enforce the guarantees of the fifteenth amendment in any State or political subdivision the court finds that a test or device has been used for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color, it shall suspend the use of tests and devices in such State or political subdivisions as the court shall determine is appropriate and for such period as it deems necessary.
(c) If in any proceeding instituted by the Attorney General under any statute to enforce the guarantees of the fifteenth amendment in any State or political subdivision the court finds that violations of the fifteenth amendment justifying equitable relief have occurred within the territory of such State or political subdivision, the court, in addition to such relief as it may grant, shall retain jurisdiction for such period as it may deem appropriate and during such period no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect at the time the proceeding was commenced shall be enforced unless and until the court finds that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color: Provided, That such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure may be enforced if the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure has been submitted by the chief legal officer or other appropriate official of such State or subdivision to the Attorney General and the Attorney General has not interposed an objection within sixty days after such submission, except that neither the court’s finding nor the Attorney General’s failure to object shall bar a subsequent action to enjoin enforcement of such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.
SEC. 4. (a) To assure that the right of citizens of the United States to vote is not denied or abridged on account of race or color, no citizen shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his failure to comply with any test or device in any State with respect to which the determinations have been made under subsection (b) or in any political subdivision with respect to which such determinations have been made as a separate unit, unless the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in an action for a declaratory judgment brought by such State or subdivision against the United States has determined that no such test or device has been used during the five years preceding the filing of the action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color: Provided, That no such declaratory judgment shall issue with respect to any plaintiff for a period of five years after the entry of a final judgment of any court of the United States, other than the denial of a declaratory judgment under this section, whether entered prior to or after the enactment of this Act, determining that denials or abridgments of the right to vote on account of race or color through the use of such tests or devices have occurred anywhere in the territory of such plaintiff. An action pursuant to this subsection shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges in accordance with the provisions of section 2284 of title 28 of the United States Code and any appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court. The court shall retain jurisdiction of any action pursuant to this subsection for five years after judgment and shall reopen the action upon motion of the Attorney General alleging that a test or device has been used for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.
If the Attorney General determines that he has no reason to believe that any such test or device has been used during the five years preceding the filing of the action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, he shall consent to the entry of such judgment
(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall apply in any State or in any political subdivision of a state which (1) the Attorney General determines maintained on November 1, 1964, any test or device, and with respect to which (2) the Director of the Census determines that less than 50 percentum of the persons of voting age residing therein were registered on November 1, 1964, or that less than 50 percentum of such persons voted in the presidential election of November 1964.
A determination or certification of the Attorney General or of the Director of the Census under this section or under section 6 or section 13 shall not be reviewable in any court and shall be effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
(c) The phrase “test or device” shall mean any requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting or registration for voting (1) demonstrate the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter, (2) demonstrate any educational achievement or his knowledge of any particular subject, (3) possess good moral character, or (4) prove his qualifications by the voucher of registered voters or members of any other class.
(d) For purposes of this section no State or political subdivision shall be determined to have engaged in the use of tests or devices for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color if (1) incidents of such use have been few in number and have been promptly and effectively corrected by State or local action, (2) the continuing effect of such incidents has been eliminated, and (3) there is no reasonable probability of their recurrence in the future.
(1) Congress hereby declares that to secure the rights under the fourteenth amendment of persons educated in American-flag schools in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, it is necessary to prohibit the States from conditioning the right to vote of such persons on ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language.
(2) No person who demonstrates that he has successfully completed the sixth primary grade in a public school in, or a private school accredited by, any State or territory, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his inability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language, except that, in States in which State law provides that a different level of education is presumptive of literacy, he shall demonstrate that he has successfully completed an equivalent level of education in a public school in, or a private school accredited by, any State or territory, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the predominant classroom language was other than English.
SEC. 5. Whenever a State or political subdivision with respect to which the prohibitions set forth in section 4(a) are in effect shall enact or seek to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect on November 1, 1964, such State or subdivision may institute an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, and unless and until the court enters such judgment no person shall be denied the right to vote for failure to comply with such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure: Provided, That such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure may be enforced without such proceeding if the qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure has been submitted by the chief legal officer or other appropriate official of such State or subdivision to the Attorney General and the Attorney General has not interposed an objection within sixty days after such submission, except that neither the Attorney General’s failure to object nor a declaratory judgment entered under this section shall bar a subsequent action to enjoin enforcement of such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure. Any action under this section shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges in accordance with the provisions of section 2284 of title 28 of the United States Code and any appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court.
SEC. 6. Whenever (a) a court has authorized the appointment of examiners pursuant to the provisions of section 3(a), or (b) unless a declaratory judgment has been rendered under section 4(a), the Attorney General certifies with respect to any political subdivision named in, or included within the scope of, determinations made under section 4(b) that (1) he has received complaints in writing from twenty or more residents of such political subdivision alleging that they have been denied the right to vote under color of law on account of race or color, and that he believes such complaints to be meritorious, or (2) that, in his judgment (considering, among other factors, whether the ratio of nonwhite persons to white persons registered to vote within such subdivision appears to him to be reasonably attributable to violations of the fifteenth amendment or whether substantial evidence exists that bona fide efforts are being made within such subdivision to comply with the fifteenth amendment), the appointment of examiners is otherwise necessary to enforce the guarantees of the fifteenth amendment, the Civil Service Commission shall appoint as many examiners for such subdivision as it may deem appropriate to prepare and maintain lists of persons eligible to vote in Federal, State, and local elections. Such examiners, hearing officers provided for in section 9(a), and other persons deemed necessary by the Commission to carry out the provisions and purposes of this Act shall be appointed, compensated, and separated without regard to the provisions of any statute administered by the Civil Service Commission, and service under this Act shall not be considered employment for the purposes of any statute administered by the Civil Service Commission, except the provisions of section 9 of the Act of August 2, 1939, as amended (5 U.S.C. 118i), prohibiting partisan political activity: Provided, That the Commission is authorized, after consulting the head of the appropriate department or agency, to designate suitable persons in the official service of the United States, with their consent, to serve in these positions. Examiners and hearing officers shall have the power to administer oaths.
SEC. 7. (a) The examiners for each political subdivision shall, at such places as the Civil Service Commission shall by regulation designate, examine applicants concerning their qualifications for voting. An application to an examiner shall be in such form as the Commission may require and shall contain allegations that the applicant is not otherwise registered to vote.
(b) Any person whom the examiner finds, in accordance with instructions received under section 9(b), to have the qualifications prescribed by State law not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States shall promptly be placed on a list of eligible voters. A challenge to such listing may be made in accordance with section 9(a) and shall not be the basis for a prosecution under section 12 of this Act. The examiner shall certify and transmit such list, and any supplements as appropriate, at least once a month, to the offices of the appropriate election officials, with copies to the Attorney General and the attorney general of the State, and any such lists and supplements thereto transmitted during the month shall be available for public inspection on the last business day of the month and, in any event, not later than the forty-fifth day prior to any election. The appropriate State or local election official shall place such names on the official voting list. Any person whose name appears on the examiner’s list shall be entitled and allowed to vote in the election district of his residence unless and until the appropriate election officials shall have been notified that such person has been removed from such list in accordance with subsection (d): Provided, That no person shall be entitled to vote in any election by virtue of this Act unless his name shall have been certified and transmitted on such a list to the offices of the appropriate election officials at least forty-five days prior to such election.
(c) The examiner shall issue to each person whose name appears on such a list a certificate evidencing his eligibility to vote.
(d) A person whose name appears on such a list shall be removed therefrom by an examiner if (1) such person has been successfully challenged in accordance with the procedure prescribed in section 9, or (2) he has been determined by an examiner to have lost his eligibility to vote under State law not inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
Sec. 8. Whenever an examiner is serving under this Act in any political subdivision, the Civil Service Commission may assign, at the request of the Attorney General, one or more persons, who may be officers of the United States, (1) to enter and attend at any place for holding an election in such subdivision for the purpose of observing whether persons who are entitled to vote are being permitted to vote, and (2) to enter and attend at any place for tabulating the votes cast at any election held in such subdivision for the purpose of observing whether votes cast by persons entitled to vote are being properly tabulated. Such persons so assigned shall report to an examiner appointed for such political subdivision, to the Attorney General, and if the appointment of examiners has been authorized pursuant to section 3(a), to the court. SEC. 9.
(a) Any challenge to a listing on an eligibility list prepared by an examiner shall be heard and determined by a hearing officer appointed by and responsible to the Civil Service Commission and under such rules as the Commission shall by regulation prescribe. Such challenge shall be entertained only if filed at such office within the State as the Civil Service Commission shall by regulation designate, and within ten days after the listing of the challenged person is made available for public inspection, and if supported by (1) the affidavits of at least two persons having personal knowledge of the facts constituting grounds for the challenge, and (2) a certification that a copy of the challenge and affidavits have been served by mail or in person upon the person challenged at his place of residence set out in the application. Such challenge shall be determined within fifteen days after it has been filed. A petition for review of the decision of the hearing officer may be filed in the United States court of appeals for the circuit in which the person challenged resides within fifteen days after service of such decision by mail on the person petitioning for review but no decision of a hearing officer shall be reversed unless clearly erroneous. Any person listed shall be entitled and allowed to vote pending final determination by the hearing officer and by the court.
(b) The times, places, procedures, and form for application and listing pursuant to this Act and removals from the eligibility lists shall be prescribed by regulations promulgated by the Civil Service Commission and the Commission shall, after consultation with the Attorney General, instruct examiners concerning applicable State law not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to (1) the qualifications required for listing, and (2) loss of eligibility to vote.
(c) Upon the request of the applicant or the challenger or on its own motion the Civil Service Commission shall have the power to require by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of documentary evidence relating to any matter pending before it under the authority of this section. In case of contumacy or refusal to obey a subpoena, any district court of the United States or the United States court of any territory or possession, or the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, within the jurisdiction of which said person guilty of contumacy or refusal to obey is found or resides or is domiciled or transacts business, or has appointed an agent for receipt of service of process, upon application by the Attorney General of the United States shall have jurisdiction to issue to such person an order requiring such person to appear before the Commission or a hearing officer, there to produce pertinent, relevant, and nonprivileged documentary evidence if so ordered, or there to give testimony touching the matter under investigation, and any failure to obey such order of the court may be punished by said court as a contempt thereof.
SEC. 10. (a) The Congress finds that the requirement of the payment of a poll tax as a precondition to voting (i) precludes persons of limited means from voting or imposes unreasonable financial hardship upon such persons as a precondition to their exercise of the franchise, (ii) does not bear a reasonable relationship to any legitimate State interest in the conduct of elections, and (iii) in some areas has the purpose or effect of denying persons the right to vote because of race or color. Upon the basis of these findings, Congress declares that the constitutional right of citizens to vote is denied or abridged in some areas by the requirement of the payment of a poll tax as a precondition to voting.
(b) In the exercise of the powers of Congress under section 5 of the fourteenth amendment and section 2 of the fifteenth amendment, the Attorney General is authorized and directed to institute forthwith in the name of the United States such actions, including actions against States or political subdivisions, for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief against the enforcement of any requirement of the payment of a poll tax as a precondition to voting, or substitute therefor enacted after November 1, 1964, as will be necessary to implement the declaration of subsection (a) and the purposes of this section.
(c) The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction of such actions which shall be heard and determined by a court of three judges in accordance with the provisions of section 2284 of title 28 of the United States Code and any appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court. It shall be the duty of the judges designated to hear the case to assign the case for hearing at the earliest practicable date, to participate in the hearing and determination thereof, and to cause the case to be in every way expedited.
(d) During the pendency of such actions, and thereafter if the courts, notwithstanding this action by the Congress, should declare the requirement of the payment of a poll tax to be constitutional, no citizen of the United States who is a resident of a State or political subdivision with respect to which determinations have been made under subsection 4(b) and a declaratory judgment has not been entered under subsection 4(a), during the first year he becomes otherwise entitled to vote by reason of registration by State or local officials or listing by an examiner, shall be denied the right to vote for failure to pay a poll tax if he tenders payment of such tax for the current year to an examiner or to the appropriate State or local official at least forty-five days prior to election, whether or not such tender would be timely or adequate under State law. An examiner shall have authority to accept such payment from any person authorized by this Act to make an application for listing, and shall issue a receipt for such payment. The examiner shall transmit promptly any such poll tax payment to the office of the State or local official authorized to receive such payment under State law, together with the name and address of the applicant.
SEC. 11. (a) No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse to permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote under any provision of this Act or is otherwise qualified to vote, or willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count, and report such person’s vote.
(b) No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for voting or attempting to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote, or intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for exercising any powers or duties under section 3(a), 6, 8, 9, 10, or 12(e).
(c) Whoever knowingly or willfully gives false information as to his name, address, or period of residence in the voting district for the purpose of establishing his eligibility to register or vote, or conspires with another individual for the purpose of encouraging his false registration to vote or illegal voting, or pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both: Provided, however, That this provision shall be applicable only to general, special, or primary elections held solely or in part for the purpose of selecting or electing any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, presidential elector, Member of the United States Senate, Member of the United States House of Representatives, or Delegates or Commissioners from the territories or possessions, or Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
(d) Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of an examiner or hearing officer knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
SEC. 12. (a) Whoever shall deprive or attempt to deprive any person of any right secured by section 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, or 10 or shall violate section 11(a) or (b), shall be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(b) Whoever, within a year following an election in a political subdivision in which an examiner has been appointed (1) destroys, defaces, mutilates, or otherwise alters the marking of a paper ballot which has been cast in such election, or (2) alters any official record of voting in such election tabulated from a voting machine or otherwise, shall be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both
(c) Whoever conspires to violate the provisions of subsection (a) or (b) of this section, or interferes with any right secured by section 2, 3 4, 5, 7, 10, or 11(a) or (b) shall be fined not more than $5,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(d) Whenever any person has engaged or there are reasonable grounds to believe that any person is about to engage in any act or practice prohibited by section 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, or subsection (b) of this section, the Attorney General may institute for the United States, or in the name of the United States, an action for preventive relief, including an application for a temporary or permanent injunction, restraining order, or other order, and including an order directed to the State and State or local election officials to require them (1) to permit persons listed under this Act to vote and (2) to count such votes.
(e) Whenever in any political subdivision in which there are examiners appointed pursuant to this Act any persons allege to such an examiner within forty-eight hours after the closing of the polls that notwithstanding (1) their listing under this Act or registration by an appropriate election official and (2) their eligibility to vote, they have not been permitted to vote in such election, the examiner shall forthwith notify the Attorney General if such allegations in his opinion appear to be well founded. Upon receipt of such notification, the Attorney General may forthwith file with the district court an application for an order providing for the marking, casting, and counting of the ballots of such persons and requiring the inclusion of their votes in the total vote before the results of such election shall be deemed final and any force or effect given thereto. The district court shall hear and determine such matters immediately after the filing of such application. The remedy provided in this subsection shall not preclude any remedy available under State or Federal law.
(f) The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction of proceedings instituted pursuant to this section and shall exercise the same without regard to whether a person asserting rights under the provisions of this Act shall have exhausted any administrative or other remedies that may be provided by law
SEC. 13. Listing procedures shall be terminated in any political subdivision of any State (a) with respect to examiners appointed pursuant to clause (b) of section 6 whenever the Attorney General notifies the Civil Service Commission, or whenever the District Court for the District of Columbia determines in an action for declaratory judgment brought by any political subdivision with respect to which the Director of the Census has determined that more than 50 percentum of the nonwhite persons of voting age residing therein are registered to vote, (1) that all persons listed by an examiner for such subdivision have been placed on the appropriate voting registration roll, and (2) that there is no longer reasonable cause to believe that persons will be deprived of or denied the right to vote on account of race or color in such subdivision, and (b), with respect to examiners appointed pursuant to section 3(a), upon order of the authorizing court. A political subdivision may petition the Attorney General for the termination of listing procedures under clause (a) of this section, and may petition the Attorney General to request the Director of the Census to take such survey or census as may be appropriate for the making of the determination provided for in this section. The District Court for the District of Columbia shall have jurisdiction to require such survey or census to be made by the Director of the Census and it shall require him to do so if it deems the Attorney General’s refusal to request such survey or census to be arbitrary or unreasonable. SEC. 14.
(a) All cases of criminal contempt arising under the provisions of this Act shall be governed by section 151 of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (42 U.S.C.1995).
(b) No court other than the District Court for the District of Columbia or a court of appeals in any proceeding under section 9 shall have jurisdiction to issue any declaratory judgment pursuant to section 4 or section 5 or any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction against the execution or enforcement of any provision of this Act or any action of any Federal officer or employee pursuant hereto.
(1) The terms “vote” or “voting” shall include all action necessary to make a vote effective in any primary, special, or general election, including, but not limited to, registration, listing pursuant to this Act, or other action required by law prerequisite to voting, casting a ballot, and having such ballot counted properly and included in the appropriate totals of votes cast with respect to candidates for public or party office and propositions for which votes are received in an election.
(2) The term “political subdivision” shall mean any county or parish, except that, where registration for voting is not conducted under the supervision of a county or parish, the term shall include any other subdivision of a State which conducts registration for voting.
(d) In any action for a declaratory judgment brought pursuant to section 4 or section 5 of this Act, subpoenas for witnesses who are required to attend the District Court for the District of Columbia may be served in any judicial district of the United States: Provided, That no writ of subpoena shall issue for witnesses without the District of Columbia at a greater distance than one hundred miles from the place of holding court without the permission of the District Court for the District of Columbia being first had upon proper application and cause shown.
SEC. 15. Section 2004 of the Revised Statutes (42 U.S.C.1971), as amended by section 131 of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (71 Stat. 637), and amended by section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1960 (74 Stat. 90), and as further amended by section 101 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (78 Stat. 241), is further amended as follows:
(a) Delete the word “Federal” wherever it appears in subsections (a) and (c);
(b) Repeal subsection (f) and designate the present subsections (g) and (h) as (f) and (g), respectively.
SEC. 16. The Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense, jointly, shall make a full and complete study to determine whether, under the laws or practices of any State or States, there are preconditions to voting, which might tend to result in discrimination against citizens serving in the Armed Forces of the United States seeking to vote. Such officials shall, jointly, make a report to the Congress not later than June 30, 1966, containing the results of such study, together with a list of any States in which such preconditions exist, and shall include in such report such recommendations for legislation as they deem advisable to prevent discrimination in voting against citizens serving in the Armed Forces of the United States.
SEC. 17. Nothing in this Act shall be construed to deny, impair, or otherwise adversely affect the right to vote of any person registered to vote under the law of any State or political subdivision.
SEC. 18. There are hereby authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act
SEC 19. If any provision of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, the remainder of the Act and the application of the provision to other persons not similarly situated or to other circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
The 227th Anniversary of the First Meeting of the U.S. Supreme Court
The first session of the Supreme Court was set to convene on February 1, 1790 in the Royal Exchange Building in New York City. Because three justices were unable to make it to New York in time, the first meeting was delayed until February 2.
The first meetings of the Court included four of the six justices – John Jay, James Wilson, William Cushing, and John Blair, Jr. John Rutledge, who was in New York decided not to attend the session, and Robert Harrison was to ill to travel and ultimately resigned from the Court.
The first meeting included four of the six original justices: John Rutledge was in New York, but decided not to attend the session, while Robert Harrison was too ill to travel to the session, and he had indicated he would resign from the Court. (President Washington confirmed Harrison’s resignation about a week later.).
I thought it might be useful to provide some brief biographical information about our nation’s first Supreme Court justices. A timely topic given President Donald Trump’s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. (All biographical information is provided by the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society).
John Jay: The Nation’s First Chief Justice
JOHN JAY was born on December 12, 1745, in New York, New York, and grew up in Rye, New York. He was graduated from King’s College (Now Columbia University) in 1764. He read law in a New York law firm and was admitted to the bar in 1768. Jay served as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses, and was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1778. He also served in the New York State militia. In 1779, Jay was sent on a diplomatic mission to Spain in an effort to gain recognition and economic assistance for the United States. In 1783, he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Revolutionary War. Jay favored a stronger union and contributed five essays to The Federalist Papers in support of the new Constitution. President George Washington nominated Jay the first Chief Justice of the United States on September 24, 1789. The Senate confirmed the appointment on September 26, 1789. In April 1794, Jay negotiated a treaty with Great Britain, which became known as the Jay Treaty. After serving as Chief Justice for five years, Jay resigned from the Supreme Court on June 29, 1795, and became Governor of New York. He declined a second appointment as Chief Justice in 1800, and President John Adams then nominated John Marshall for the position. Jay died on May 17, 1829, at the age of eighty-three.
JAMES WILSON was born in Caskardy, Scotland, on September 14, 1742. He entered St. Andrews University in 1757 and emigrated to America in 1765 to take a teaching position at the College of Philadelphia. He read law with an attorney and in 1768 began a private law practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. Wilson was elected a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1775 and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Wilson was a member of the committee that produced the first draft of the Constitution. He signed the finished document on September 17, 1787, and later served as a delegate to the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention. On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Wilson one of the original Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed the appointment two days later. Wilson served on the Supreme Court for eight years and died on August 21, 1798, at the age of fifty-five.
WILLIAM CUSHING was born on March 1, 1732, in Scituate, Massachusetts. After graduation from Harvard College in 1751, Cushing taught school for one year in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and then read law in Boston. He was admitted to practice in 1755. In 1760, Cushing moved to Lincoln County, Massachusetts (Now Dresden, Maine), to become a Probate Judge and Justice of the Peace. In 1772, he was appointed to the Superior Court of Massachusetts Bay Province. Under the new State Government, Cushing was retained as a Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, and in 1777 he was elevated to Chief Justice. From 1780 to 1789, he served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Cushing strongly supported ratification of the United States Constitution and served as Vice Chairman of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention. On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Cushing one of the original Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed the appointment two days later. Cushing served on the Supreme Court for twenty years and died on September 13, 1810, at the age of seventy-eight.
John Blair, Jr.
JOHN BLAIR, JR., was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1732. He was graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1754. After one year of law study in England at the Middle Temple, London, he returned to Virginia to practice law. Blair began his public service in 1766 as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1770, he resigned from the House to become Clerk of the Governor’s Council. Blair was a delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1776, which drafted the State Constitution. Blair became a Judge of the Virginia General Court in 1777 and was elevated to Chief Judge in 1779. From 1780 to 1789, he served as a Judge of the First Virginia Court of Appeals. Blair was a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was one of three Virginia delegates to sign the Constitution. He was also a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention of 1788. On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Blair one of the original Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed the appointment two days later. Blair served five years on the Supreme Court. Citing the rigors of circuit riding and ill health, he resigned on January 27, 1796. Blair died on August 31, 1800, at the age of sixty-eight.
JOHN RUTLEDGE was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in September 1739. He studied law at the Inns of Court in England, and was admitted to the English bar in 1760. In 1761, Rutledge was elected to the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly. In 1764, he was appointed Attorney General of South Carolina by the King’s Governor and served for ten months. Rutledge served as the youngest delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, which petitioned King George III for repeal of the Act. Rutledge headed the South Carolina delegation to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and served as a member of the South Carolina Ratification Convention the following year. On September 24, 1789, President George Washington nominated Rutledge one of the original Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed the appointment two days later. After one year on the Supreme Court, Rutledge resigned in 1791 to become Chief Justice of South Carolina’s highest court. On August 12, 1795, President George Washington nominated Rutledge Chief Justice of the United States. He served in that position as a recess appointee for four months, but the Senate refused to confirm him. Rutledge died on June 21, 1800, at the age of sixty.
ROBERT HARRISON was one of Washington’s aides-de-camp during the Revolutionary War and later became his military secretary. After serving as the chief justice for Maryland’s court system, Washington nominated Harrison to the Supreme Court. Sickness kept Harrison from accepting the position and he died in April 1790.